Saturday, March 29, 2014

How will Jokowi’s policies shape up?

The nomination of Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo as the presidential nominee from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) was met with relief.

After public pressure, especially from within the party, the party’s chairperson, Megawati Soekarnoputri, issued an executive order announcing Jokowi as the party’s nominee for the July presidential election.

Many predict the elections are over. For the next five years at least, Indonesia may be run by the PDI-P, who many predict will control the majority of seats in the House of Representatives and will also have Jokowi as president.

While the shape of the next government will also be decided by the PDI-P coalition partners and the coalition arrangement, the PDI-P will have the clear upper hand in this coalition, which will be different from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s rainbow (but ineffective) coalition.

Is the PDI-P the same party that ruled Indonesia more than a decade ago? The answer is probably yes and no.

On the one hand, during the decade in opposition, the party has been rejuvenated. Young blood has been added. Many civil society activists entered politics through this party. Intellectualism in the party that had hitherto been absent has increased tremendously in the past few years.

The election of party members such as Jokowi, Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini and Central Java Governor Ganjar Pranowo, has revived public trust in the party. These individuals have provided examples of participatory leadership and have insisted on the reform of Indonesia’s corrupt bureaucracy.

Public enthusiasm for the PDI-P’s return to power is testimony to this decade-long rejuvenation, but the party’s platform remains the same. The obsession with keeping Indonesia a unitary state despite the plurality of different regions in the country seems as strong as ever. Disdain for the constitutional amendments that provided the constitutional grounds for Indonesia’s democracy after Reformasi has also not subsided.

Judging by the past experience of the PDI-P’s ruling days and the recent style of leadership applied by the PDI-P’s subnational leaders, we can try to make an educated guess on what sort of policies and outlook a Jokowi administration would take.

The clearest outlook is about the leadership style Jokowi will apply in office. He will likely be approachable and attempt to open up access for public participation.

He would also continue to put an emphasis on bureaucracy reform. One criterion to measure the success of his ministers would be the degree of responsiveness to public concerns and how effective public services can be provided.

It is still unclear, however, how he would transfer his experience in Surakarta, commonly known as Solo, and Jakarta to the national bureaucracy. One difficulty would immediately arise if Jokowi’s cabinet is like SBY’s multiparty cabinet, with representatives from different political parties.

The other challenge is decentralization, with the power of authority devolved to the subnational governments, leaving the national government with residual supervisory power, except in religious affairs, finance, defense and foreign policy. It would be interesting to see the dynamics between Jokowi and subnational leaders.

Also in question is whether a PDI-P majority in the legislature would revise the law on regional autonomy that many perceive has given too much power to the regions, thus bringing back some authority to the central government, a move that, if pursued, would incite opposition from the regions.

How would a Jokowi presidency approach the issue of special autonomy in Aceh and Papua? The PDI-P’s view that the handling of Aceh and Papua run contrary to the unitary state principle are publicly known.

While it is difficult to roll back the special autonomy enjoyed by the Acehnese as a result of an internationally brokered peace deal, the future of Papua remains uncertain. Jokowi may not revive an oppressive Military Operation Zone (DOM) and instead would likely engage the Papuans in dialogue.

But the question remains, what kind of political solution will he offer to the Papuans? If he continues the line of the current government by refusing to acknowledge Papua’s history and local symbols, then dialogue would not progress. But if he is willing to adopt former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid’s approach of acknowledging these things, he will risk stern opposition from conservative elements in his own party.

On social cohesiveness, Jokowi will likely adopt a policy that addresses the issue of discrimination against minority groups, perhaps more decisively than what SBY has attempted. This explains the large support for Jokowi from minority groups and the vehement opposition of Islamist groups.

But decentralization would probably besiege him. Many of the subnational governments that adopted discriminatory regulations have done so on the pretext of their devolved authority, despite the arrangement that religious affairs fall under the authority of central government.

It will be interesting to see if Jokowi invokes this constitutional mandate against opposition from various groups and local authorities.

On the economy, Jokowi’s past experience demonstrates an affinity to small and medium businesses. So it is probable that his economic policy will have some populist components.

It is still unclear, however, if his administration will be pro-businesses in the face of greater global trade liberalization. While some people in his party and other presidential candidates have advocated a Hugo Chavez-like nationalization policy, especially in extractive sectors, Jokowi has never been quoted as supporting this kind of viewpoint, at least not yet.

Jokowi’s stance on defense and foreign policy are far less known. He has never spoken for or against SBY’s build-up of the Indonesian Military (TNI). There is a possibility that he will review this policy and change course if he thinks that it diverts too many resources from the public services that he will probably focus on. If this is done, then he will risk losing support from the TNI.

Jokowi has gained some exposure internationally. But this is more about his style of governing, found to be fresh and innovative. His own views on foreign policy are still unknown.

He would be shadowed by the legacy of SBY’s relative successes in foreign policy, especially in Indonesia’s role in the Group of Twenty (G20), the United Nations, ASEAN and other initiatives, such as the Open Government Partnership and the Bali Democracy Forum. Jokowi would need to step up to the role of a leader of 250 million people.

While it is understandable that as a subnational leader, Jokowi has not had the opportunity to express opinions on many of these matters, the announcement of his candidacy and the likelihood of his election in July has created the necessity for him to emerge with views and opinions.

The public deserves to know before they step into the voting booth.

The writer is executive director of the TIFA Foundation.
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